September 27, 2011

Truth telling…

I’ve been following Lori’s blog for most of this year – it’s hard to read, it’s so raw and so vulnerable and part of me wants to look away but the other part of me wants to be a part of the community she keeps reaching out to, to survive the loss of her husband.

Lori wrote a post recently for Klennexmums¬†about explaining death to children. It reminded me of a chat I had earlier this year with a grief counsellor – he was helping me sort out my thoughts around my study and we stumbled upon the idea of who should break bad news to kids. I found it hard to answer as definitively as he did about the role of parents in breaking bad news to kids – as a mum I naturally thought that if anything needed to be shared with my kids – good or bad – I should be the one to do it, I know their needs, I understand their facial expressions therefore I am the one that should be the bearer of bad news (followed by a big swooping hug). The counsellor I was talking to disagreed, he told me that mums and dads should never break bad news to their kids as you will forever be linked with the news – almost a sense that the child will associate the death or trauma with you, that in the ‘telling’ you become the connection between whatever has happened and the realisation for the little person that the ‘bad’ thing has occurred (are you all following me…I dont even know if I am some days!)

I wonder then how as parents you would be able to step back and allow a stranger, a nurse, a GP, a (gasp) social worker to splinter your child’s world by telling them what had happened – I don’t know if I could stand back , my first reaction is always to protect my kids – not being the teller would somehow feel as if I wasn’t protecting them – what do you think, is being the bearer of bad news just another job that you take on as a parent?

Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. Hi Sarah,
    Visiting you from Write on Wednesday.
    Never thought of this topic “delivering the bad news” but I can see your counsellors point of view. I’m happy to say I haven’t had to deliver any bad news as yet..
    Interesting topic.

    • Thanks Kristy…do you read Lori’s blog? I guess because of my work and study I think I spend a lot of time hearing about other people’s trauma and in some ways it forces me to look at the ways I live my life. I think it’s gotten worse since I became a mum and the ‘counsellor’ hat I used to wear gets taken over by a new supermum one…thanks for reading and commenting

  2. I can see the counsellors point of view… and I guess it probably depends on the circumstances.

    If it is a truly devastating out of the blue kind of event them perhaps having someone else step in to break the news is a good option. But I can’t help but think that the kids know pretty quickly when something is up…. so do you just try and pretend like everything is ok, do you even lie to an older child who asks, until you can organise someone else to tell them? I’m just not sure how the logistics would work.

    For us, bad news has always crept up on us, and we’ve been able to talk to the kids about it gradually in what felt like a natural way. Or news has been forced so openly on us there was no hiding it from the kids, there was no way to shield them and no way to wait for someone else…

    • Its been harder and harder in my job to look at things from a counsellors perspective (which is one of the reasons why Im moving into research)…I think with your own kids you speak their language…my daughter is perplexed by death at the moment so we talk about it a lot – I disagreed with the counsellor I was talking to – I think that if you reframed it even if your child did connect you with the breaking of the news and the sadness that comes with it at least they have a memory that sends a comforting, nurturing energy with it…its part of the reason why the idea of ‘how to’ guides about human emotion and reaction are often useless when the ‘real’ world comes into play..

  3. Hi Sarah,

    I have to say that I am perplexed by the perspective of the grief counsellor. If the grief counsellor you mentioned is to be believed, then should we consult a professional whenever our children experience a loss or trauma (when the goldfish dies, the cat goes missing, a friend leaves the school, or someone dies etc) or risk forever being associated with/or blamed for the event? Where do we draw the line?

    I don’t know about you, but when I reflect on the times in my life when my parents (actually, it was usually my mother!) told me that someone had died or something terrible had happened, I remember the way in which I was supported, loved, cared for and nurtured through the tragedy. Even now, when something terrible happens in my life, all I want is my mum and the comfort she provides. When I speak with my girlfriends, they say the same thing: there are those days when all you want is your mum or that person who is your ‘soft place to land’. Reading this blog, I can’t help but wonder whether this is because our mothers (or fathers, or both) have ‘broken the news’ of a death or trauma in the past and the support they provided at the time, far outweighs the fact that they spoke the news to begin with….

    I truly believe that most people, without training, have the empathy, compassion, kindness and thoughtfulness to tackle difficult and often painful conversations with their children. These conversations are never easy and there is always a certain level of discomfort but I refuse to believe that children ‘shoot the messenger’.

    Saying this, there will be times when a counsellor should perhaps be consulted, or be involved in ‘breaking the news’ to children about a trauma or death but I do not think that this should happen in the majority of cases.

  4. I agree with you Bev…I think your most honest statement is ‘all I want is my mum’…I think also that it belittles a small persons ability to gage a situation – if you walk into a room with a stranger and tell your child that you need to discuss something that would be a tad more freaky than you being able to manage the situation…I think that when bad things happen we don’t have the luxury of planning ahead we just have to ride it out and sometimes that might mean not having a plan…thanks for stopping by x

  5. My brotherinlaw died of Cancer at 31 y.o My sisinlaw walked their kids aged 5 and 7 through every step of way. She gave a lot of thought to how she would deal with their loss once it was apparent he was dying. She was remarkable in every way and has raised two beautiful, caring, remarkable children-now 19 and 21. Truly inspiring to me and I hope I can deal with grief and loss as graciously.

    Another thought provoking post.

    • Thank you Lea…I’m always so impressed with kids and their capacity to be resilient and so forth coming with their questions and thoughts. My daughter copes so well with the unknown yet has questions that make me consider how I live with loss – your brother in law was so young, it scares me to think about leaving my kids behind but I also know that the greatest skill I can teach them is the capacity to take whatever comes – thank you for popping over and reading x

  6. PS I meant to say I agree with that last comment. I think it’s another role we take on as a parent.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.